February 19, 2006

CLICK AGAINST THE PRC:

The Click That Broke a Government's Grip (Philip P. Pan, February 19, 2006, Washington Post)

The government's Internet censors scrambled, ordering one Web site after another to delete the letter. But two days later, in an embarrassing retreat, the party bowed to public outrage and scrapped the editor in chief's plan to muzzle his reporters.

The episode illustrated the profound impact of the Internet on political discourse in China, and the challenge that the Web poses to the Communist Party's ability to control news and shape public opinion, key elements to its hold on power. The incident also set the stage for last month's decision to suspend publication of Freezing Point, the pioneering weekly supplement that Li edited for the state-run China Youth Daily.

Eleven years after young Chinese returning from graduate study in the United States persuaded the party to offer Internet access to the public, China is home to one of the largest, fastest-growing and most active populations of Internet users in the world, according to several surveys. With more than 111 million people connected to the Web, China ranks second to the United States.

Although just a fraction of all Chinese go online -- and most who do play games, download music or gossip with friends -- widespread Internet use in the nation's largest cities and among the educated is changing the way Chinese learn about the world and weakening the Communist Party's monopoly on the media. Studies show China's Internet users spend more time online than they do with television and newspapers, and they are increasingly turning to the Web for news instead of traditional state outlets.

The government has sought to control what people read and write on the Web, employing a bureaucracy of censors and one of the world's most technologically sophisticated system of filters. But the success of those measures has been mixed. As a catalyst that amplifies voices and accelerates events, the Internet presents a formidable challenge to China's authoritarian political system. Again and again, ordinary Chinese have used it to challenge the government, force their opinions to be heard and alter political outcomes.

The influence of the Web has grown over the past two years, even as President Hu Jintao has pursued the country's most severe crackdown on the state media in more than a decade. The party said last week that Freezing Point would resume publishing, but Li and a colleague were fired, making them the latest in a series of editors at state publications to lose their jobs.

With newspapers, magazines and television stations coming under tighter control, journalists and their audiences have sought refuge online. The party's censors have followed, but cyberspace in China remains contested terrain, where the rules are uncertain and an eloquent argument can wield surprising power.


Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2006 11:12 AM
Comments

"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

This quote has been attributed to several people, but I think John Gilmore (1994) was the original.

Posted by: Gideon at February 19, 2006 1:37 PM

"The episode illustrated the profound impact of the Internet on political discourse in China(the US), and the challenge that the Web poses to the Communist Party's(MSM's) ability to control news and shape public opinion, key elements to its hold on power."

Posted by: ic at February 19, 2006 3:21 PM

Best title in months. How do you surpass yourself? :-)

Posted by: Kirk Parker at February 20, 2006 3:41 AM
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